Bulletproof: Documenting Change

On March 24, 2018, Logan Calder, Gabriella Diaz, and I went to D.C. to shoot our documentary.

On April 24, 2018, we released that documentary.

Today, I will share the whole story with you, from start to finish.

The Film Itself

Bulletproof is a documentary of the March for Our Lives movement. It features interviews with protesters along with footage from the D.C. march on March 24, 2018.

The Spark

Logan texted Gabriella and me the idea. He said that this would be our way of using our skills to contribute toward the movement.

The idea appealed to me not just as a student, but as a filmmaker. It was a story to tell, and an empowering one indeed. The story of students taking a stand, in a documentary created by students.

I definitely think that it’s a way for younger people to really have a voice and a say in what’s going on.

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Abigail Urban

What better way to tell the story?

Gabriella and I were in. The next step was planning.

The Next Step: Planning

We texted back and forth for months. Ideas were developing, rules were being established.

We knew we didn’t want ourselves to be in it. We thought that to establish unbiased credibility for the documentary, we would have to interview other people and record their opinions, rather than inserting our own. We also couldn’t spoon-feed our interviewees answers; these would have to be their own ideas from their own minds for this to be a successful documentary.

We also established the tone of our documentary before shooting. We wanted the film to feel inspirational and encouraging for students around the country who are taking a stand against gun violence.

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“I Want to Be Proud to Be an American” Poster

We wanted the film to be informative, yes, but also moving and emotional, since this is not just a legislative issue, it’s a human issue.

And we intended to treat it as such.

The state of mass shootings at this point, again as a school administrator, I know all the details of those, and it really scares me.

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Memorials for Mass Shootings

We made a document with dozens of interview questions and purchased train tickets to prepare for the big day.

And then, on March 24, 2018, it came.

March 24, 2018

Logan and I left his house at 6:00 that morning.

His parents drove us to Maryland, and we took a short train ride from there to Washington, D.C. Gabriella had gone to D.C. the night before and taken videos of the city, so we met her at the march.

At marches, you’re typically not supposed to bring more than a small bag, for safety reasons, so we did not bring any tripods, extra lenses, or any other fancy equipment. Just a camera and a microphone.

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Interviewing Heather Bert

We got there at around 11:20 and started recording.

We started with b-roll of people walking down the streets and holding signs.

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Walking to the March

A nice security guard also helped us get a shot of the crowd.

Then we started filming interviews. Our hope was to gather really good interview answers and use those to lead the viewer along on the journey.

However, music was blasting throughout the city block. Logan, who was wearing headphones, could barely hear the interviewees’ answers. But we continued to record the interviews nonetheless, hoping that we would be able to work with the audio in post and produce a cohesive documentary.

Hoping.

We interviewed both kids and adults, including students, teachers, and a school administrator. It was interesting to hear their opinions because the issue of school shootings affects them directly. At the end of each interview, we told the interviewees to say their name and when they will be voting. We did this in order to give credibility and strength to the voices of youth protesters, for they will be voting soon enough.

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Interviewing Skylar Pigrom

At noon, the march began and there were back-to-back speakers and performers, so we couldn’t do any more interviews.

Eventually, we left the march, took the train back to Maryland, and drove home.

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Leaving the March

What a day.

April 15, 2018

Alright, let’s edit this thing.

Three weeks later, the three of us met at my house to edit. We used Final Cut Pro X, my personal weapon of choice, to cut together interview segments and b-roll into a flowing narrative. We expected to finish editing that day.

I know. Hilarious, right?

We used the Apple TV AirPlay feature to replicate my computer screen on the TV, so we could all collaborate easily.

First, we uploaded all of the clips from my camera and Gabriella’s camera to Logan’s chip. Next, we labelled every clip.

Every. Clip.

There were around 150 clips.

150.

So that took a while. But it was worth it. With the shots labelled, we could use the search bar to look up keywords like “interview” or “poster.” We even wrote “ZZZ” on shots we definitely wanted to include in the film.

The next important step for us was to find music that fit the tone of the documentary.

Finding music is difficult, because I always make sure the music is royalty-free, which in short means that I won’t have to pay the music creators if my film ever makes money.

After much searching, we eventually settled on Cinematic Indie by MorningLightMusic. We thought it fit the inspirational tone we were trying to set through the visuals. Most songs sounded either upbeat or adventurous, and we didn’t want either of those.

Next, we started sequencing the shots. We started with some inspirational shots from the march.

 

 

It is always important for me to align the visuals with the audio. I do this in all interview-based videos I do, including my promotional videos for my school’s theatrical productions. I think it enhances the viewing experience, and isn’t too hard to do for nonlinear films like this that have no set order or length for each shot.

For a film that matches visuals with audio perfectly, see Baby Driver. Edgar Wright is a living genius.

Then, we added our first interview clip. We started with general answers about what the March for Our Lives movement is.

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Sarah Racile

We added more interview clips and overlaid them with b-roll so the audience wouldn’t get bored. We used the search bar to search through the names we gave our clips to find b-roll that fit the message or tone of the interview clip.

See? I told you labeling would come in handy.

Because of the loud music playing while we were filming the interviews, we used the Audio Analysis feature and adjusted until it sounded right. If we enhanced the audio too much, their voices would sound garbled, but if we did it too little, you would hear Everybody Talks blasting in the background.

The music can still be heard at some points in the video, but, overall, Audio Analysis worked much better than we had expected.

We worked that day until we reached a nice stopping point: the title screen. We put a nice video Gabriella took of the Lincoln Memorial from across the Reflecting Pool.

But the title.

We still didn’t have a title.

Eh, that’s a later problem.

April 21, 2018

We met again 6 days later, and this time we were determined to finish the video completely, because Gabriella wanted to use it in a gun control presentation at Rutgers.

So we had left off on the title screen. We felt that, since the film shifts here, the music would have to, also. We looked for new music for a while, until Logan found one on YouTube that we really liked.

But it didn’t say it was royalty-free, and we didn’t want to take the chance. After much researching, link-following, and Shazam…ming, we finally found that the song was from the YouTube Audio Library. It’s called Secret Conversations and it’s by The 126ers.

Now that we had our music, it was time to get rolling.

We started with a clip of the crowd chanting “Vote Them Out!” in unison.

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“Vote Them Out!”

Then, in sync with the chant, we added b-roll of signs.

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But we didn’t know what to do next.

What order should we put the interviews in? How can we flow from one topic to another smoothly so it doesn’t feel like a list of topics.

That’s where the white board came in.

We spent the next hour listening to every interview and writing down which topics came up and in whose interviews. Then, we drew out a logical sequence of ideas. Once we finished, we had a definitive plan of what to do next.

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Planning on the White Board

Let’s get working.

We kept editing and editing, and eventually disconnected from the Apple TV to just gather around my laptop.

But we had a problem.

We had aligned every visual cut with the audio, as it was coming out of the TV speakers, but apparently the speakers had a delay, because when we watched it from my computer, it all seemed off. We had to shift the audio and adjust some clips to fix this problem.

The moral of the story? Take caution before editing via Apple TV.

Anyway.

As a school administrator, oh my god, I am so proud. I am so proud.

We wanted to end the video on an inspirational note, so we put clips with pride toward the movement, then finished with interviewees saying their name and what year they will vote.

I’m Niccolo Luftig, and I’ll be voting to end gun violence in the year 2022.

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Niccolo Luftig

We came close to finishing the edit that night. I would finish it before Tuesday so Gabriella could put it in her presentation.

Final Touches

There were a few details to touch up before publishing.

  • Color Correction: I used the Balance Color feature on all clips and kept it if it looked better. I then went through and applied additional color correction to clips where and how I saw fit.
  • Audio Adjustments: I went through each clip and adjusted the volume of each clip so that it was loud enough but not garbled. I tried to adjust each volume bar so that there was yellow but minimal red.
  • Names: I added the names of each interviewee at the first time they talked. I made them blue with a black background so they would be easily legible in all shots.
  • End Credits: I added a short credits screen at the end with the name of the film, our names, where it was shot, and the music we used. This way, we gave ourselves credit, enforced that it was actually shot at the D.C. protest, and gave credit to the amazing music creators.
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Credits

Oh yeah, the title.

Logan thought of the title “Bulletproof,” which Gabriella and I really liked. It fits the inspirational tone that students’ voices will not be silenced, and it also relates to the gun control movement (for obvious reasons). It symbolizes how our generation will not let guns continue to do mass harm as they do now, essentially making us all bulletproof.

I decided to offset proof from bullet so it is centered lower. This was for aesthetic purposes, and also as a visual symbol for how guns have split our society and our schools, specifically over the past few months. I also changed the texture of the 3D Title, which makes it look more interesting and fits the topic well.

So we did it. We finished it.

And at midnight on April 24, one month after the march, we published the video to YouTube. (I used the Schedule feature and set the publish time to midnight.)

After

Right after publishing, we did the final step of making a film: promote, promote, promote!

We sent the film out to our friends and posted it on social media. I also sent it to multiple film festivals via Film Freeway, which I will definitely be writing a post about in the future because it is an essential (and free!) tool for filmmakers who want their films to get seen and recognized.

Chris Messineo, my film school teacher at NJ Film School, informed me that the interviews in the film were only playing out of one speaker, which is very noticeable and disorienting when listened to through headphones. The settings on my camera must have been messed up. To fix this, I changed the Audio Configuration from Stereo to Dual Mono.

Here’s the original video for comparison:

Thanks, Chris!

Making this film, from idea to finished product, was a fulfilling experience that helped my documentary skills improve. I hope that the film helps push the March for Our Lives movement forward and inspires other students to bring change as the world calls for it.

Next week, I’ll write about a short comedy I starred in this week, titled Mr. James Smith, about a lucky mistake involving college acceptance letters.

Also, the untitled film I wrote about in my last post just got a title: Girl Friend. I really like it because it plays on the multiple interpretations of the phrase, which is exactly what the film is about. Also, Beth Polito (who also composed for Darkness) composed dramatic music for the film! I’m so excited for you all to see it.

Cut to black.

5 thoughts on “Bulletproof: Documenting Change

  1. I love your blog posts – they are so informative.

    Great job on the documentary! I’m really proud of you three.

    If you don’t know about keywords in FCPX, remind me to show you on Thursday – they are awesome.

    Like

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